Rhode Island may soon require all school buses to be equipped with seat belts. The General Assembly is set to consider a bill to that effect in its next session.
The legislation would grandfather in existing buses without restraints but mandate that all new contracts between R.I. school districts and bus companies include only buses equipped with seat belts, said Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, R-Coventry, sponsor of the bill.
Rhode Island does not currently impose any seat belt requirements for school buses, said Elliot Kreiger, public information officer for the Rhode Island Department of Education. Seat belts “can be used on buses, and some (buses) do” have them. But, he said, “It’s up to districts. We don’t set any requirements.”
In a Nov. 8 press conference, Mark Rosenkind, an administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, confirmed the importance of seat belts as a primary safety mechanism, saying, “NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”
He added that this position marked a departure from past NHTSA policy: As recently as 2011, the administration had maintained that seat belts were not necessary for school bus safety, Turn to 10 reported.
Nardolillo said the NHTSA’s 2011 policy was based on impact studies that have since been disproven. He added that low school bus fatality statistics are “misleading,” and people should look to higher injury statistics to get a more complete picture of the hazard buses without seat belts pose to child safety.
In addition to requiring seat belts on buses, the bill calls for school systems to standardize school bus fire safety and practice drill procedures, Nardolillo said.
He added that the bill does not currently include subsidies to school districts and will require districts to finance these changes within their existing budgets. Getting buses with seat belts is “going to be a little bit more expensive,” he said. “It’s not going to be a lot more expensive.”
“We’re talking about a state where everybody has to wear a seat belt in any vehicle they’re in besides school buses,” Nardolillo said. “This legislation is common sense.”